On a hot sunny day in July, I took my sister into the woods to hike for her birthday. I understood that she probably wouldn’t care for it, but everything was closed due to a global pandemic. I knew she loved seeing beautiful waterfalls and what she referred to as a “crick,” or what the rest of the world called a stream or river. I had chosen a trail well known to have flowing water year-round, and so we packed our hiking bags, grabbed extra water, and headed out in our ball caps and sunglasses. However, the well-intentioned birthday trek went a little different than expected.
About three meters into the hike, we found ourselves surrounded by vibrant poison oak. The leaves from the unwanted sticky oil-covered brush had left us ducking and scooting through the forest like two overzealous participants in a cheap laser maze. Still, we pressed on with our goal set on the beautiful stream–I mean crick that we were promised. I looked back to check on the birthday girl whose expression was contorted into a gnarly game of face Twister. It was then that I knew I was the worst gift giver.
It took literally getting hit by a small boulder in my left leg to check back into the “real” world mentally. You know, the one where people live indoors and are accustomed to interacting in spaces with more than two other people in them. The amount of time I had spent on my own in the outdoors allowed me to nearly escape the pandemic entirely. The hiking buff that covered my face reverted to its intended summer use as a shield between my mouth and nature’s most annoying flying insects (sorry entomologists). However, a recent hike with a friend helped knocked me back to reality.
I grew up in a predominantly white, rural town. Some people identified as Latino or Hispanic, but in every single class that I was in, whether it be dance, school, gymnastics, or karate, I was always the darkest one. There would be another Black person occasionally, and it wouldn’t be until I was able to explore more around town that I finally saw the rest of the community. The ones with darker skin like mine were, quite literally, segregated on the other side of town. None of the people I hung out with even knew about it. My classmates would even freak out when we got another Black boy in class.
How Briefly Getting Lost In The Wilderness Made Me Realize We Should Be More Like Ron Weasley
I heard rustling from the freely growing shrubbery that lined the dirt trail, and then I saw it crash from seemingly nowhere about 20 feet ahead of my trekking poles. The crash sounded like the moment a riding horse shifts from a trot to a full gallop. I could hear the sheer power of the hooves and the weight of the large animal as it slammed onto the narrow ledge of the rock face several thousand feet above the last human I saw. The doe quickly rolled from where it landed on its side and shot up before staring in my direction. I froze. The deer froze, and we made eye contact for what seemed like a full 20 seconds.
I was alone for the first time in the woods. I went onto the trail without a sign from anyone around, but on the way back, I saw a pile of fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. I first heard noises behind the trees off to the distance and then saw the bushes move. “Of course I would get mauled by a bear the very first time I decided to hike by myself,” or so I thought, and so I picked up my hiking pace three-fold and made it out of the heavily-bear-populated mountains with a story. That was a little over a year ago.
I didn’t realize how social I really was until the order was passed down by California’s state Governor to stay home. Stay home? I didn’t remember two consecutive days in my entire life, except for the times I was really sick when I stayed inside of a building. I was always outside, either running, driving, or hiking. When I got bored, I went outdoors until the day that I couldn’t.
Before you place yourself into a particular box and select a descriptive word or an identifying trait, there is a group that everyone falls under—we all, for the most part, live on planet earth. Even the astronauts floating around happily above our colorful and protective sky have to come back down to the third rock from this solar system’s sun eventually.
I spent the latter part of 2019, and some portions of 2020 before I may or may not have inconveniently passed away from a bad case of the flu, interviewing people who wore their passion for mother nature proudly. I tried to get in contact with individuals who used their voices to help and defend the only habitable planet that we can reach within our lifetime. However, I also heard from other advocates about how certain issues are more important than others.
Why understanding a group before joining is so important
Not everyone who joins a specific group falls under the descriptive category. In fact, I occasionally invite non-people of color to Black Girl Trekkin hikes. Some tag along excitedly, while others may shy away from the invitation. I love including people in spaces, but I make sure that the people I invite on hikes are respectful and take the time to learn about the group and the people who are in it.
I try to check my new messages and requests across all the social media accounts that I regularly manage for the groups and organizations I lead at least once a day. I watch as reaction emoji’s trickle in like the babbling brooks I love to post on my own Instagram stories. The majority of the time the messages are very positive. I’ll usually see polite questions about upcoming outdoor events and comments on how beautiful the images that I have shared from the hiking community. However, sometimes, I’ll get questions about whether people who identify as men can join the hikes that I lead for the Los Angeles chapter of the women’s group, Hiker Babes and I have to pause for a moment.
What do you do when you’re all alone in the woods and there is someone trying to grab you? In this episode, I sit down with Nicole Snell, adventuresofnik on Instagram, and her work joining her love of nature and her passion for teaching self-defense by creating the OutDoor Defense series.
You can turn the Closed Captioning on the YouTube video of the podcast below.
If you asked me a year ago if I would be the ambassador for the Los Angeles chapter of the international hiking group, Hiker Babes, whose mission is to unite women who share a passion for the outdoors into a community, I would have laughed. It’s not as though I haven’t led such as groups of writers, students, coworkers, and such before. However, I always left trail scouting and leading hikes up to the other hiking groups that I am also a member — especially the group, Black Girls Trekkin.’
It was with the group Black Girls Trekkin that I first attempted to do the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Before I was hiking with a team of badass women who climb mountains, I never would have thought that I would have been able to hike as long and as far as we have on some of these hikes. I think the two biggest lessons I learned was that, one: AllTrails is a tool to use, and two: with the help and advice of my wonderful and very supportive friends at Black Girls Trekkin’ I can totally lead a group of women out into nature safely.
It was also all my other outdoorsy friends that have motivated to do incredibly creative and intricate things such as a podcast. It was by first getting back into running outdoors and ultimately just returning to nature in college and hiking with other nature-loving people that have led me into this life of a wild mountain woman.
So, when people ask me how, or why, did you become the leader of L.A. Chapter Hiker Babes, I try to give a short answer. I usually just say I did it because I love hiking and I was offered the role, but what I really want to tell them is how I started running so I could drink more at bars and eat street burritos, and it lead me to be in a national online campaign for an amazing shoe company and a hiking leader for an international community. I know better that it would take too long, though.